By contributor and fellow Bike Nerd, Chris Randle.
This past weekend I had to take the wife to Fayetteville to see her close friends and to get her hair done. (Extremely boring for me, but I am an awesome husband.)
Luckily for me, Robert Kirby, Spokes’ NW Arkansas team member had a weekend of good riding planned out.
I should start by saying that I hurt my back pretty bad on Wednesday doing stupid tricks and attempting technical challenges during our Wednesday night shop ride. I could barely walk on Thursday, it was better Friday with no major pain, although I could tell that it was sprained still.
Saturday: I met up with Robert and we headed to Slaughter Pen. I decided to ride my Alma since I wasn’t sure whether or not my back would let me mash. At Slaughter Pen we descended what’s probably the “neatest” downhill trail in the state (Playpen) and started to head towards Blowing Springs, a new trail designed by Progressive Trail Designs in Bella Vista. In route to the trail, Robert picked up about 7 ticks since we had to bushwhack a little bit. Good times. Eventually we made it to Blowing Springs. That trail is pure fun. If you are ever in that part of the state, it is a must ride!!! It is beginner friendly, but has a very rhythmic flow that allows you to focus on cornering, pumping and cranking. There are only a few miles of trail, but it is quality. There are a couple of unique rock sections that offer minor technical challenge at speed, but the trail is very beginner friendly with no major climbs/descents and will probably lead to a lot more folks getting into mountain biking in the NW Arkansas area. The definition of a “good” trail is relative, but I think that most people would agree that Blowing Springs is a blast to ride.
All in all the day went great, we met a couple of riders out there and one guy mentioned meeting some badass chick from Little Rock who raced for Orbea. He was referring to Team Spokes’ resident pro-licensed female Suzanne Karklins. (who definitely rides like a pro, even on bad days) At any rate after riding back to Slaughter Pen and doing a section of it and another sweet pump track/downhill, my back decided that it was time to call it quits.
Sunday: We got up early to head to Neosho, Missouri. Robert found a xc race up there, so we decided about a week before to attempt it. I wasn’t so sure that I could even race especially on my single speed that I had barely ridden, but I wanted to go anyway and at least cheer on Robert. We got to the race venue really early and decided to do a recon lap. The course was fast and had a lot of loose rock and corners. There was some climbing, but not anything long or super steep. Overall, a good part of the course was fairly technical at speed. I think that it was around 6.8 miles and only took us 46 minutes to recon it. I had not raced a single speed since Attilla in 2010, so I was not sure what to expect. For me this race was gonna be pure fun with zero expectations. Robert and I discussed single speed gearing over the last day and he decided to go with a 32/16. I had a 32/21 on my SS and decided to stick with it, because i don’t like mashing all of the time and would rather have the opportunity to ride higher cadence when I can and to crank my big ass up hills. At any rate I was curious how I could even compete against him because he is a much faster rider based on his results last year and his power to weight ratio is better as I outweigh him by about 45lbs. One funny thing is that while we watched the Cat 3 starts just inside of the trail head, we learned why the race was called Le Tour de Tick, Robert had gotten ticks again. (Around 6 this time.) He must have some sweet blood or something. LOL!
There were some familiar faces at the event. The entire Drummond family was there and they offerered to give me handups, which awesome, because I carry around enough weight without having to worry about the extra bottle. There were also two brothers who race for Arkansas Cycling and Fitness, Max and Dallas. They were both on SS, but were racing in the marathon event.
Our race had 7 riders in it and I only knew Zach Lowden, who is usually faster than me and Robert. Although I had planned to take it easy, when the “gun” went off, I did an atypical run for the front (Our team captain Micah always encourages me to stop goofing off and race out of my comfort zone). It was a grass start to single track, I led up until the trail head and this guy gets me right at the entrance and almost wrecks. I laughed for sec, but he got himself situated and dropped me in a matter of a minute. Now having had a couple years of experience racing, I am well aware of my strengths. I know I can go fast (for very short periods of time) and I know that I can handle a bike better than I have ever been able to (meaning that technical stuff gets me excited, not scared). That being said, I thought for sure that at least Zach and Robert would be right on my tail, but as I got further into the woods and I never saw anyone except for the fast 19-29 guys, lappers from the marathon race and the one expert that I caught. It was not until the last lap (lap 3) with a couple of miles to go that I heard someone shout my name and it was Robert. He saw me in the open field section and put that 32/16 to good use. I think that he could have passed me once he caught up, but instead he encouraged me to push harder and try to chase the 30-39 leader who had passed us with about a mile or two to go. I was able to drop Robert a little in the technical sections, but in the end he finished right on my tail for a Spokes 2/3 finish in single speed!!! I must have been jacked up on adrenaline the entire race, because I had forgotten all about my back. This was my best Cat 2 race distance finish ever! I am hoping that it is an inidication of how I could peform in 30-39 this season. We will see. At the end of the day, I don’t really care, because I got to go fast. Shake and bake!
Oh and the one bad thing that happened in this race was that I tore a big hole (literally) in my BRAND NEW $100 Spokes bibs. I guess it was worth it. LOL!